Just One Moment #2

Just One Moment #2

I know how turtles feel, suddenly staring at the sky, legs akimbo, the sense of vulnerability and impending calamity turning quickly to panic.

I lay in the road, pain in my shoulder and lower back thrumming hard in my brain, a level of pain that seemed to make it impossible to move, and yet I knew, I needed to move.

It takes a special kind of talent to crash in the middle of a road while on a mountain bike ride. There is only so much pavement, maybe 15 feet out of every 5000, to achieve the feat, but I have done it. I did it.

We came down the hill, down the narrow trail flanked by saplings, at speed. The danger there is that you’ll catch a grip on one of the close set trees and suplex yourself onto the ground, or worse, into another tree. Still, over hundreds of trips up and down that trail, I have never made that mistake.

This particular day I was feeling good, leaning into my turns, feeling the flow, popping lightly off the ground at every opportune rise.

Maybe I just let my guard down.

Out of the woods, the trail parallels a road crossing for maybe 40 feet, then crosses and flows right back into another close bound downhill run. I was rolling along next to the pavement when I decided to attempt to bridge over early. There, in between the smooth dirt and the hard pavement is a shallow ditch, the sort of gap that you would roll through 99 times out of 100 as long as you decided to point your wheel across it at a reasonable angle.

I didn’t do that.

I rolled down into the ditch, still too parallel, caught the shoulder of my front tire tread on the rising bead at the edge of the asphalt, and effectively hurled myself sideways, at speed, onto my back in the middle of the road.

This road, narrow though it is, is a fairly busy cut-through between two yellow-lined arteries. Those in the know fly through to cut out a pair of inconvenient lights. So, as I lay there, waiting for the full bloom of pain to rise, I was already beginning to fear I was about to be crushed to death by a car.

On a mountain bike ride. Like an idiot.

The pain rose quickly, time going elastic, from fast to slow to fast again. And I felt paralyzed, even knowing I lay in harm’s way, overcome by a greater belief that moving might kill me.

The human body is funny really, isn’t it? I can go from fully rigid and immovable with pain to back on the bike and rolling full speed in the space of a few minutes. Thankfully. Mercifully.

I went from convinced I’d broken something structural to sure I needed to move in the space of maybe 20 seconds, which I perceived as much longer. A single car slowed ahead. I got up, walked to the side of the road, and shook my seized body parts loose. I made a joke I can’t recall now to cover my embarrassment and let my friends know the ride wasn’t over.

And on we went. It took a few weeks for the ache to leave by back.



  1. Walt S

    Crashing. Never anticipated, and almost always, never as bad as you thought is was going to be. Almost.

    The first time I crashed I was commuting to work in Cleveland in the dark morning hours. I had ridden the route hundreds of times. This day it was raining and cold. Because of traffic I would have to ride through the puddle that was in front of me instead of swinging out to avoid it. The “puddle” turned out to be a huge pothole that was lying in wait for me, the unsuspecting cyclist. As I was riding across it, the shear depth of the pothole caught my front wheel and flipped the bike sideways, me skittering along the wet pavement on my side. I remember lying there thinking, “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be!” Thanks to a concerned USPS employee who was driving by, I was helped getting my shoes unclipped (remember toe clips and straps) and went shakily on my way. Torn jersey, torn skin, but overall not too bad.

    The second time, I had just done some bike maintenance and replaced a worn chain. Going through the gears on the stand, everything seemed to shift as it should. I kitted up and departed. I was riding at around 20 mph and a traffic signal was turning from green to yellow. I made the decision to go for it and sprinted through the intersection to beat the light. Only it didn’t quite work out that way. As I was standing to power through the intersection heaving the bike side to side to get extra leverage, the new chain skipped on the more worn cassette. There was enough momentum happening when I was applying the power and the chain suddenly released for the bike to become airborne. I still remember the thought as I was flying through the air better than sideways and almost upside down, “This isn’t right?” Crash! I lay in the middle of the intersection stopping traffic in all directions dazed with what had just happened. Fortunately there was a nurse in one of the cars at the intersection. A visit to the hospital ensued with a concussion diagnosed.

    Funny how crashing can be like a slow motion video as your brain tries to process the event and make sense of how just a moment ago everything was just fine. After some crashes, you pick yourself up and go on. After others, someone else picks you up and you do not.

    1. Fr0hickey

      Don’t you hate it when the commonplace ends up being the disastrous? During ski season, I always tell myself to “respect the mountain” especially on the mountains I have frequented before.

      I’m only now learning to bunny hop a bike. I think that “puddlehole” would have been a prime candidate for a bunny hop target.

      Safe riding everyone. Everyone (thing) out there is out to get us. 😉

  2. Les.B.

    And don’t we all have a dose of that “special kind of talent”?

    Glad you’re in too many pieces. And the bike.

  3. Rod

    Yikes. Very timely for me as well. My lack of MTB skills were put into evidence two Sundays ago when I managed to put my front wheel in a rut on a dirt road descent.

    Managed to not flip over the bars, but not to keep control. Drifting left – stay on the road! – fail. Stay on the ditch! Fail. Don’t hit a big tree! – thankfully succeeded at that.

    My lumberjacking expedition resulted in a big hematoma in an arm and very sore ribs (maybe broken? Not that a clear diagnosis would make much difference). My teammates picked me up and we still managed to do 80 more km on trails and roads. Fortunately nothing broken (bike just had a twisted shifter), just very battered.

    It really only takes a second of inattention.

  4. Dustin Gaddis

    My last MTB wreck was a trail I’ve ridden hundreds of times. Leading a train of riders on the ‘half lap and out’ at the end of the ride, charging up a steep hillside, hands on my barends, I clipped a pedal on a root. Bike went left, off the trail and down the hill. My hands were on the barends, I couldn’t get to the brakes. The woods are THICK here. At the bottom of the hill I could see a downed tree I was sure I was going to smash my face on.

    Then I blacked out for a second or two.

    Next thing I know I’ve come to a stop at the bottom of the hill, I’m on my back, the bike above me, both hands still on the bars, my feet up in the air caught in some vines. All my friends are pulling up and stopping on the trail above me, about 20ft away, Kyle is already off his bike and running down to help me. Everyone thinks I’m dead.

    I was fine! I had a little scratch on my leg, got a little poison ivy rash on my elbow…and that’s it. Apparently as I went off the trail I turned the bike back to the right, I basically did a barrel roll and landed on my back and slid ~15ft, over some small downed trees, through some vines and other brush. That log I thought I was going to hit my face on before I blacked out – I’m resting my head on it like a pillow.

    Sometimes, you get lucky.


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